SPIRE Academy is a specialized academic institution focused on inspiring the best expression of the human spirit through athletics, academics, and service to others. The high school features a world class 750,000 sq. ft. facility on over 800 acres of land located in the greater Cleveland area in Geneva, Ohio. It is the training location for Olympians and World Champions. SPIRE’s coaches/ambassadors are Olympians, world champions, gold medalists, and record holders. SPIRE Academy is focused on developing high school athletes to be ready to compete at the collegiate level while learning leadership traits on top of gaining an impactful education. The lacrosse program at SPIRE Academy is coached by JD Harkey.
JD Harkey played midfield for the UMBC Retrievers from 2007-2011. Harkey started coaching lacrosse while he was still a player in high school through coaching youth lacrosse clinics. He would inevitably move on to the next level when Joe Trigiani of Blackwolf Lacrosse gave Harkey his first official coaching job for the travel program.
Following his time as a player at UMBC, Harkey went to law school at the University of South Carolina. He stepped away from the game during this time but came to the realization that the sport of lacrosse meant much more to him than he realized. Following law school, Harkey would join the coaching staff of the University of South Carolina’s MCLA Men’s Lacrosse program.
After his first year with the Gamecocks, the program asked Harkey to return to the coaching staff, but this time as the team’s head coach. Harkey gladly accepted the position while still working full-time at a local law firm. The Gamecocks bolstered great success under Harkey during his six seasons with the team. The team maintained a 73-18 record along with a MCLA National Championship in 2019.
At the conclusion of the 2020 season, Harkey made the decision that he wanted to pursue coaching full-time and began reaching out to multiple programs across the country. This decision led Harkey to return to Baltimore, this time as a teacher and coach at Gerstell Academy. He originally planned on staying with the program for years to come, but when an opportunity to coach at SPIRE Academy became available, Harkey knew he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
“The opportunity to build something from scratch, that comes along not very often,” Harkey said. “It’s rare that you have the opportunity to build something from the ground up, especially at a place like this with the resources that we have and the nationwide pull.”
Harkey had nothing but praise for what the institution has to offer its students and staff. He was mostly impressed by SPIRE’s holistic development of student athletes, focusing on academics, physical and mental development, as well as lacrosse.
“The people are also phenomenal,” Harkey said. “If it was just a facility without the great people that make it come alive it wouldn’t be the same. Our staff from top to bottom is a phenomenal group of people”
In terms of coaching, JD Harkey is more than capable of building a team centered around development and success. He has had many positive coaching influences in his life, such as Don Zimmerman, Bob Curcio, and Bruce Sheppard. Harkey feels much of his coaching philosophy is borrowed from coach Zim but understands that in order to be a successful coach, he has to cultivate his own style.
He feels one of his biggest strengths is that his style of coaching is centered around relationship building. “I view coaching as much more off the field than on the field. Cultivating skills and talents while building a community of student athletes who can communicate well who trust each other while playing fast and loose together.” With no one on campus yet, Harkey has the opportunity to build the program from the ground up and the way he sees fit.
In terms of the team itself, Harkey is looking to have a roster of 25 guys by the start of the 2023-2024 school year with goals of increasing those numbers year over year. Harkey is looking to foster an environment of competition where every player on the team, regardless of age, is prepared and able to step up when the moment calls.
When asked about what kind of students he is looking to bring into SPIRE Academy, Harkey has clear expectations on what kind of player will succeed in the program. “Guys that truly are hungry about getting better academically, athletically, as a person, will thrive at SPIRE Academy because we have so many resources and opportunities for development.”
The school is not a traditional high school or prep school, as SPIRE Academy is specifically built for not only academics but long-term athletic development with a focus on college and career. Academics are spread out throughout the day, unlike traditional high schools that only offer classes within a set timeframe, SPIRE classes are more focused on the student’s interest of studies. Five hours of academics along with four hours of athletics along with performance training sessions including strength, endurance, mental skills, and nutrition. Students will live on campus from August to May with the summers off to return home.
The future of lacrosse at SPIRE Academy certainly has a bright future with JD Harkey at the helm. For information on the SPIRE lacrosse program, follow the link HERE.